Category Archives: Uncategorized

Relaunching my blog

I’ve been blogging here for over a year so I decided it was time for a bit of a clear out.

When I started, I didn’t really know what exactly I was going to be blogging about but I imagined it would have something to do with leaving the BBC and starting to teach journalism rather than do journalism.

But things haven’t quite turned out like that and I find myself writing increasingly about my painful efforts to learn to code or my (slightly less painful) efforts to make other people learn to code.  I find myself becoming a little evangelical about it!  Who’d have thought?

I also decided that I should stop describing my life in terms of what I used to do and why I stopped doing it.  Instead, I focus on what I’ve become and what I’m learning.

Why the coffee cups?  I just like espresso shots.  That never changes.

Starting an after-school Code Club

We’re taking the first tentative steps towards setting up an after-school coding club at our local primary school.  I’m inspired by Clare Sutcliffe and Linda Sandvik who are working extremely hard to set up Code Club – a nationwide network of after-school coding clubs for 10-11 yr olds.  They’ve been devising a 12-week curriculum using Scratch, a fantastic children’s programming language.  They’ve just started piloting the workshops in schools in London.

I started off by using our PTA Facebook group to see if anyone else shared my interest in getting this set up.  I got a really good response!  It seems there are loads of parents out there who are worried about ICT teaching in schools and the lack of coding skills being taught.  Then we just chatted to parents in the playground and a few more people expressed an interest.  Most of us are enthusiasts like me rather than actual bona fide programmers but enthusiasm is a really important component in any project like this!

We obviously need support from the school itself so I emailed the head teacher and he was very happy for us to go ahead (so long as it didn’t really involve him having to do anything – which is fair enough).

So the next step is to get us all together to see what kind of skills (and time) we’re able to contribute to the project.  I’ve sent out a Doodle scheduler to make it easy to find a mutually convenient time so we’ll see how quickly it comes together.

I’m really looking forward to meeting like-minded and people thrashing some ideas out!

Meanwhile, my own coding has slipped by the wayside due to sudden unexpected work commitments (some of it actually PAID!!).  Maybe I’ll squeeze in half an hour of Codecademy today although it’ll take me hours just to relearn what I’ve forgotten.

And Iv’e ordered my Raspberry Pi!  It should be here in the next 2 weeks.  I was thinking of live blogging my first couple of hours with it to see how intuitive it is to get it up and running!


World Service celebrates 80 years – my box of memories

I don’t do scrapbooking and I don’t like hoarding mementos so I’ve been trawling the internet for my favourite images and sounds from the World Service’s 80th Birthday celebrations.  It’s a very personal selection – the people, places and sounds I want to remember.  I was at Bush House for the 70th celebrations but didn’t quite make it to the 80th so I’m very grateful to all the people who shared moments from the special day 29.02.12.


This slideshow reminds me of the role BBC World Service has played during the great moments of history.  I don’t think those of us working at Bush House ever forgot the sense of responsibility that came with the knowledge that millions of people around the world counted on us as their only source of reliable information.  It meant that we could argue at length about the precise meaning of a single, seemingly innocuous word in a news bulletin – would it be perceived as biased by one side or the other?

Times changed, of course, and audiences came and went but there was always somewhere in the world that needed to hear an independent voice from beyond.

The technology changed too and fewer and fewer of our listeners tuned in using shortwave as the BBC relied more heavily on FM rebroadcasts by partner stations.   But there are still people around the world who need to tune in using short wave, as Bethan Jinkinson found out for this lovely feature.

But if that history lesson was too much for you, try this.  This is Adam Long of the Reduced Shakespeare Company with his Reduced History of the BBC World Service. It was a special commission for the BBC Newshour debate on the future of global broadcasting.

Fortunately, the programmes on the 80th anniversary didn’t dwell too much on the past.  Instead, they came up with this nice concept of Inside Out whereby listeners got a sense of what happens behind the scenes.  How does the World Service decide which stories get on air, which voices are heard and how (limited) resources are deployed?  Well, most of those decisions start here, at the 9 o’clock editorial meeting….

The guy at the head of the table chairing proceedings on this occasion is Olexiy Solohubenko,multimedia editor of World Service Languages (he’s had many very important titles over the years!)  But I knew him as head of the newly-formed Ukrainian Service back in 1992 when I studio managed their first live broadcast.  Sitting on his right is Liliane Landor, controller of Languages for BBC Global News,  She joined Bush House at around the same time as me and I remember her as a presenter on the French Service, which even broadcast to Europe back then (who listened??).  I’ve had to attend and even contribute and argue my case at these meetings on many occasions over the years and never enjoyed it.  But I loved it as a spectator!  It was always deeply intimidating being in the presence of such Big Brains.

The Outlook programme (another one that I worked on many times as Studio Manager, Producer and Reporter) finally realised that the best people stories are in Bush House itself.

This programme is how I’ll remember Bush House – a place full of amazing people with incredible stories but who all share the same lifts, canteen, toilets and passion for what we do.  It’s a very humbling experience and I probably took it for granted whilst I was working there.  When I started out as a Studio Manager at Bush, I worked on programmes in all the languages so there are many familiar faces and voices in these photos and recordings.

Here are the people taking part in that special Outlook programme.  Originally from Sierra Leone, Josephine Hazeley is now the Deputy Editor of the BBC’s Africa Service – and she used to host legendary Christmas parties for the Africa Service staff and their families right in Bush House.  I went to one!  She has an unforgettable voice and you certainly made sure you got things right when she was in charge!

Seva Novgorodsev is a presenter on the BBC Russian Service – but he started out as a clarinet and saxophone player in a jazz band that toured the Soviet Union.  I worked on Sevaoborot many, many times as a Studio Manager and enjoyed sipping a glass of red wine as I did so!

This is Shaima Khalil, an Egyptian journalist currently working for BBC World News TV.

Priyath Liyanage is the Editor of the BBC Sinhala Service which broadcasts to Sri Lanka. When he first arrived in the UK he worked as a nurse, an aromatherapist and a night porter in a London hotel.  He was a great contributor to World Briefing.

This is Najiba Kasraee, a former Senior Producer at the Afghan Stream of the BBC Persian/Pashto Service, now working at the BBC’s College of Journalism.  She has an amazing story to tell.

The anniversary was, of course, part celebration, part wake.  It coincides with the BBC leaving Bush House for a new home in Broadcasting House.  So I guess I’ll never enter Bush House on The Aldwych ever again and my link with that hugely important part of my life will be lost.  Fortunately, some very clever people put together this beautiful film which will be my favourite souvenir.

And this is a Russian version which appeals to me, at least!  Some VERY familiar voices and faces here.

So Wednesday 29th February turned into a pretty emotional day for me.  In the end, I called Lars bevanger who was colleague many years ago on the World Today.  He’s now a freelance journalist and happens to live down the road.  We met up in Libby’s to reminisce ….

But as night fell on Bush House, the REAL party started – a bittersweet affair of celebration, reminiscing and uncertainty about the future.
Jeremy Morgan and Mike Cooper-DiFrancia.

Jerry Sullivan, Clare Bolderson and Rebecca Kesby
And for my final image……
Yes, I did actually operate this B-type mixing desk, with rotary, Bakelite faders.  It’s how I will always remember Bush House – totally unique, hilariously eccentric, a little old-fashioned and very, very loveable.

Why Pinterest is the crack cocaine of Social Media.

In the beginning, the common theme amongst tech commentators and Social Media gurus was that Pinterest was something for the ladies – a bit of harmless fun that made them feel like they were using a computer.  It was somewhere the ladies could go whilst their menfolk were in Google Hangouts.  Pinterest became the Babycham of the internet era.

If the tech writers were to be believed, across the less fashionable parts of America, a new generation of Stepford Wives was mindlessly pinning and repinning pictures of ponytails whilst maintaining their fixed smiles.  Who needed tranquillisers in the Pinterest era?

And it was respectable.  Unlike vulgar social media like Twitter and Facebook you couldn’t just JOIN Pinterest.  You had to be INVITED – like a Tupperware party.

And maybe Pinterest would have stayed that way if Big Business and powerful media organisations hadn’t started sniffing around, trying to see what was keeping all these women so happy, trying to see if they could make a buck or two out of this pinning/repinning compulsion.

Pinterest crossed the boundary from bridal shower to boardroom.  Things would never be the same again.

Soon Pinterest was no longer the preserve of nice, middle America homemakers who liked making their own Christmas cards.  It became the social media of choice for any up-and-coming marketing newbie or social media editor who wanted to show off.  Men were no longer embarrassed to be seen to pin in public.  Suddenly, everyone was doing it.  It went global.  People measured their success in repins and follows.  Greed was good.

We should have seen it coming.  But we didn’t.  We never do until it’s too late.

Slowly, inevitably, Pinterest revealed its darker side.  It wasn’t a sweet, innocent pick-me-up after all.  It was cruelly addictive.  It was the crack cocaine of social media and once you started pinning, you’d keep coming back for more.  And more.  And more.

Growing numbers of women – and men – turned into hopeless addicts in desperate search of a repin.  But the repins were getting rarer and the hit wasn’t as high.  Nobody was interested in their boards any more.  Their pinning became more and more desperate, erratic, thematically vague.  Eventually, they reached the bottom rung, forced to do things they’d never thought they’d do;  they started pinning images of moderately engaging kittens.


I speak as one who knows what it’s like.  I’ve tried to wean myself off with strong doses of Storify but it’s no good.  Pinterest’s got its hooks into me and no mistake.

We may not be sharing needles, but we’re sure as hell sharing pins.

To feed my habit, I’ve started pushing.  I’m targeting social media novices.  They’re weak, vulnerable to the promise of unlimited images of clever storage ideas for small rooms.  I’m not proud of myself.  Pinterest made me do it.

So why am I writing all this?  Because I’m hoping that this blog post might help some of you avoid the Pinterest habit.  Don’t be deceived by its feminine guile.

It’s too late for me.


The Art of Writing for Radio

Hilariously, the blog  posts I’ve written about computer science (a subject I know virtually nothing about) get WAY more views and shares than anything I ever write about journalism (a subject which has been my income source for twenty years)!  Maybe ignorance is more appealing in a blog than professional insight!!

But I’m not playing the ratings game :-)  So I’m going back to journalism or rather the teaching of journalism for a moment.

I started a new semester of teaching radio journalism to a new group of first years at Salford Uni last week.  It was great to meet them and I enjoyed the first sessions on the Art of Writing for Radio.

I wanted to find a fun way of reinforcing the main points of the lecture so I decided to build on an idea I’d seen done by Helen Keegan, a lecturer in Interactive Media at Salford.  She’d got the MSc Audio Production/Professional Sound and Video Technology students to put together some tips on using Social Media.  She took photos and put them together into a cute video.  I loved the simplicity of the idea so asked if she’d mind if I, erm, stole it for my students.

So this is the end result.  My photos (using my iPad) aren’t as good as Helen’s so the messages don’t come out very clearly in some of the photos.  But the second group of students happened to have bingo dabbers with them (don’t even ask) so they really helped!

Spreading some coding love on Pinterest.

This blog seems to be less and less about journalism and more and more about computer science!!  That’s not something I would have predicted when I started out twenty-odd posts ago.  But I love that kind of deviation from the planned route.  The whole beauty of blogging and social media and linking is that you are taken in directions you never thought possible and can find yourself delighted and reinvigorated by the most unexpected things.

I’ve been messing around with Pinterest for a couple of weeks (there’s a lot of buzz about it) but couldn’t really find a use for it.  It’s, well, a bit twee at the moment.  It’s really taken off with female crafters in the States, people planning their weddings, pictures of cute animals doing amazing things – you can imagine.  So not really my thing.  But everyone was talking about its huge potential.

If you’ve not come across Pinterest yet (it’s invitation only at the moment!!) it’s a digital pinboard site with lots of sharing (repining.)

Then yesterday I came up with the idea of creating a Pinboard about all the great resources and blogs and people I’ve come across as I learn about coding.  So instead of writing a blog with hyperlinks to all these sites which people skip over and ignore, I’ve got a pinboard with lots of intriguing images which draw people in and encourage people to click and visit.  That’s the idea, anyway.

My coding Pinboard - 100% not twee

Within minutes, these images were being repined and commented on in the Pinterest world.  That’s a lot of sharing bang for your buck!  And maybe as a result one more person will start to learn a little bit about coding….

What I like about it is that it provides a good format for telling a non-linear story.  So my collection of resources for coding learners doesn’t really lend itself to a traditional narrative structure – although you could find a way of doing that, of course.  But a Pinboard enables me to bring all my material together and the “linking narrative” is the passion about the subject which I want to share with a wider audience.

I got in touch with Manchester Girl Geeks about it too (I’d pinned them!) so they’re playing around with Pinterest in the same sort of way.  Between us, we’ll turn twee into geek!